MUMBAI: In a Historic move , The Bombay high court on Tuesday allowed medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) of a 23-week foetus by a 22-year-old married woman, who said she faced domestic violence and continuing to full term may cause her mental strain.
A medical board had said it was advisable to continue the pregnancy and the woman’s condition did not fulfil the MTP criteria of substantial risk of causing grave and mental injury to the mother.
A bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Madhav Jamdar said: “Declining permission would (be) tantamount to compelling her to continue with her pregnancy, which, in the circumstances, will not only become extremely burdensome and oppressive on her but has the potential to cause grave injury to her mental health.” Their reasoned judgment is not yet available.
The woman had approached the high court seeking permission for MTP on the grounds that “continuing it will cause grave injury to her mental health’’. Her counsel Aditi Saxena said she had been subjected to domestic violence since her marriage in January 2021.
On July 23, the court had directed a medical board from JJ hospital to examine her. The court also heard state lawyer Uma Palsuledesai and Centre’s advocate Purnima Awasthi, before saying it has taken an “overall view of the matter’’ and granted liberty to the woman to immediately undergo the MTP at R N Cooper hospital.
Her lawyer had cited several judgments, including a Supreme Court ruling containing observations about a woman’s reproductive rights under Article 21 (right to life).
The medical board noted that the woman had been diagnosed with mixed anxiety and depressed mood in July, much after the pregnancy was confirmed. In its final opinion, it said that after careful examination and psychiatric evaluation, “no abnormality is detected in the foetus’’ and the mother has no medical or pregnancy-related issue.
It said her “condition was primarily due to marital disputes, financial constraints and social reasons which may not be continuous in future”. It added that her condition “does not fulfil the criteria of substantial risk of causing grave and mental injury to the mother and hence does not warrant medical termination of pregnancy”.
Advocate Saxena argued that the woman “became aware of her pregnancy in February 2021 and had decided to continue. But the continuous physical assault by her husband put immense strain on the physical and mental condition… which she was unable to bear’’. The “crowning blow” was when he struck her on her stomach on June 14, necessitating “immediate medical treatment”, she added. But due to want of further medical and legal advice, financial constraints and Covid issues she could not immediately undergo the MTP in June.
Central counsel Awasthi told the court the MTP (amendment) bill for increasing the legal bar for MTP from 20 to 24 weeks’ gestation for a “special category of women” was passed by both Houses of Parliament, but a final notification is awaited.